How Can a Traumatic Event Affect Kids at School?


Trauma is not only the result of frightening and upsetting events. It can occur from an ongoing exposure to abuse, neglect, homelessness, domestic violence, or rough communities throughout their early years of development, which leads to serious learning and behavioral problems. In fact, children, or adolescents, don’t have the required skills to cope or manage the impact of stressful situations, hence, they might exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

At school, they give a hard time for educators to address their trauma because kids don’t express their distress, they mask it, however, with aggressive behavior. Furthermore, their learning ability is affected due to distractive or intrusive thoughts about the event, which decreases their IQ and reading ability, results in lower grade point averages, reduces graduation rates, and increases risk of unwanted pregnancies and substance abuse.

Additionally, exposure to traumatic events influences the ability to manage emotions, thus, leading to poor behavior in the classroom, suspensions and expulsions. At this stage, adolescents in particular, will try avoiding going to school altogether.

When symptoms of trauma are well identified by parents, psychologists, and educators, this can provide insights on dealing with them, in addition to avoiding misdiagnosis with other disorders, mainly ADHD. The most important obstacles to learning or school attendance are the following:

  • Trouble with bonds formation. In fact, they have trouble forming secure attachments to adults, which are teachers in the classroom. They are always wary and at the lookout. The reason leading to this obstacle is the disciplinary system used by schools in case of misbehavior ,rather than addressing their problems.
  • Poor self-regulation. Traumatized kids have a difficult time managing strong emotions since they weren’t provided with the experience of soothing by the adults in their lives. Instead, they were faced with neglect.
  • Negative thinking. Kids who suffered from traumatizing events tend to believe they are bad, blaming the event on themselves. Hence, they start to believe that people won’t like them or treat them well. Moreover, they develop a “hostile attribution bias”, thinking that everyone is after them. Therefore, they need to learn that making mistakes at school is an important part of learning.
  • Hypervigilance or arousal. Traumatized kids are overly alert to danger and they tend to be jumpy with a startling response. This should not be misdiagnosed with ADHD!
  • Executive function challenges. Traumatic events can affect children’s memory, attention span, planning ability, thinking, and other executive functions. These limitations prevent them from predicting the future, hence, the anxiety they suffer from.

Finally, it is important to highlight the importance of connecting with kids who had endured a traumatic event, and help them build new skills by supporting them and giving them as much positive attention as possible.  


By, Souheir Hachem, Family Psychologist


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